"We can live with almost anything," Police Commissioner John Timoney has said, describing his strategy for responding to this week's RNC-related protests.
Beyond "almost anything," of course, is violence, and so far there hasn't been a hint of that. On Monday, it was puppetry and pageantry (and a lack of a permit), as the Kensington Welfare Rights Union a Philly-based organization for the poor and homeless gathered at City Hall for a trek to the RNC site at the First Union Center in South Philadelphia. Thousands of single-file protesters started down four miles of Broad Street. Placards and banners alternated with chanters ("Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Poverty has got to go!"); a 13-wheelchair convoy of accessible housing advocates; and a giant elephant head with a cleverly hinged trunk. One protesting canine had "LOVE" shaved into his flank (missed, it seems, by the PETA contingent in giant pig costumes who cruised through the throng in a red Mustang convertible). Tuesday's demonstrators primarily targeted homelessness and poverty, with the occasional chant against HMOs and for the abolition of private property. Protesters were by and large young and white, with an odd passel here and there of mostly white demonstrators pushing strollers and carrying mostly black poor and homeless children.
For months, protesters have braced themselves for conflict: KWRU leader Cheri Honkala was resolute in her plans to march, despite the denial of a permit, and being engulfed by the giant (and permitted) hoagie that invaded City Hall, and the city's determination to keep the Broad Street corridor clear for easy delegate access to the FU Center.
But Commissioner Timoney who impressed Sunday's demonstrators as he cycled from group to group in shorts and polo shirt, shaking hands and making nice seems to have made the right tactical choice in his force's mix of relentless civility and unexpected accommodation. Timoney, for example, granted out-of-town demonstrators permission to camp out in Fairmount Park's Memorial Hall. And while police could've shut down today's march, they didn't. As the KWRU group began to siphon down the east side of Broad, 33 helmeted and mounted policemen lined up two by two off to one side, exhibiting the restraint that, so far, seems to be keeping this from becoming the next Seattle.
The march proceeded without incident, although when one anti-police-brutality protester started stamping his feet furiously after police asked him to step onto the sidewalk, a feverish swarm of cameras and microphones descended, the closest thing to a panic all afternoon. Near the FU Center, a handful of marchers sat down in the street, refusing to be funneled to a park across the street from the Center. But even they were talked into moving after only a few minutes.
On Tuesday, when the Philadelphia Direct Action Group is likely to launch its RNC protests, Timoney's velvet-glove approach may be more severely tested. After all, PDAG is an intentionally decentralized amalgam of "affinity groups," and the group that those in local government and law enforcement consider to be purely anarchistic. Certainly, PDAG's stated mission to disrupt the conference has convention boosters on edge. If, as has been the case so far, no conflict happens in the streets and no surprises happen inside the convention center, local news anchors will have no choice but to continue following around visiting delegates as they eat their first cheesesteaks and soft pretzels.